Imagine a Detroit Without Poverty

By Bankole Thompson

“If the poor are to get the chance to lift themselves out of poverty, it’s up to us to remove the institutional barriers we’ve created around them. We must remove the absurd rules and laws we have made that treat the poor as nonentities,” writes Muhammad Yunus, the global authority on banking for the poor in his book “Creating a World Without Poverty.”

Yunus, won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for creating unconventional socioeconomic models to help those who are marginalized in parts of Bangladesh, through the Grameen Bank he established in 1983.

His unique idea of using microcredit as a tool out of poverty for families who are trapped in an endless cycle of economic inequality, has been replicated in nations around the world.

Giving financially disadvantaged individuals in a certain community long-term small loans on easy terms to suit their own conditions helped to stabilize families and encouraged entrepreneurship.

Yunus, understood that institutions that have long contributed to the permanent state of the underclass can no longer be looked upon to proffer solutions that would end the saga of the perennial underclass.

And if Detroit is to see any significant or meaningful improvement regarding the challenges facing poor families including financial instability, it will need to apply the Yunus doctrine so that thousands of families can escape the economic misery in this city.

That would require a radical departure from the institutional or conventional way of doing things. It would mean adopting pragmatic, bold and realistic approaches to assisting economically neglected populations access opportunities that will guarantee financial security.

“And we must come up with new ways recognize a person by his or her own worth, not by artificial measuring sticks imposed by a biased system,” Yunus writes in his didactic book.

Whether you agree or not with what Yunus advocates for around the world, it is time to explore new ideas and ways of empowering those who are largely left behind in the recovery of Detroit.

For a city that has been designated as the main anchor for mass poverty in the nation, it only makes sense that those who are interested and committed to equity come up with some form of outside the box initiatives that would lead to change.

That is why The PuLSE Institute, is launching the inaugural edition of its Perspectives on Poverty Series on the issue of financial tools for Detroit’s low-income families. The forum, “Small Banking, Greater Access: Financial Solutions for Low-Income Families,” open to the public will be held Thursday, July 26, 9-10:30 am at the banquet hall of the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, 138 Stimson Street in Midtown.

The panel of experts who have been invited to speak at the forum are drawn from diverse sectors including the academic and the banking world. As the moderator, I expect the conversation to dig deeper into the threats to financial stability for many Detroiters.

“The exclusion of the poor from the benefits of the financial system is not restricted only to the poorest countries of the world. It exists worldwide. Even in the richest country in the world, many people are not considered credit-worthy and are therefore ineligible to participate fully in the economic system,” Yunus writes.

This is part of the reason why it is important to start a conversation about the future of Detroit’s poor families, who are often dismissed as inadequate.

Bankole Thompson is the chair of the Academy of Fellows and Editor-in-Chief of The PuLSE Institute, an independent anti-poverty think tank based in Detroit.

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